Crops burnt off in strawberry hell
SUNSHINE Coast growers remain tight-lipped about the future of the strawberry industry, as one farm destroyed half a million plants.
As the industry slid further into the unknown, with crisis meetings held yesterday afternoon, Queensland police continued to search for the saboteur responsible for the contamination scare which has seen four major supermarkets ditch the berries.
Glasshouse Mountains farmer Leonard Smith told The Courier-Mail he met with Coles representatives at his farm yesterday and agreed to install metal detectors, which would cost him about $30,000. He will need two to cover the rest of the season and he had spoken to other growers who would also install the safety measure.
He said some smaller mum-and-dad growers, who had only a few hundred thousand plants, may not be able to afford too.
"I need to get them in service in weeks so I can pay some debt off so I don't have to have some uncomfortable conversations,'' Mr Smith told The Courier-Mail.
Asked if he had any idea about the culprit or motive, Mr Smith said, "I don't know mate, you guess is as good as mine.
He said there was no guarantee metal detectors would work, especially if the sabotage was happening off site.
His farmhand Cameron Stevens at the weekend killed off 500,000 plants because it was more effective to burn them off then pick them.
The State Government offered a $100,000 reward for any information that led to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for what had been described as food terrorism by those within the industry.
A number of fellow Coast growers who spoke to the Daily on Monday said they'd been told by industry bodies not to speak about the sabotage.
Long-time farmers said the fallout was affecting the entire industry, as punnet sales plummeted.
Other smaller operators were continuing with their pick-your-own businesses and direct sales from the farm, confident they weren't targeted by the saboteur, but feeling the pain.
"It was pretty dramatic for everybody," one Coast farmer said.
A number of other strawberry brands had been identified by New South Wales Police on Friday as possibly being affected.
New Zealand supermarket chain Foodstuffs also pulled all Australian strawberries from shelves as the crisis continued.
"I just can't believe it's happened," another long-time Coast grower said.
"It's totally out of control."
Anyone with information was urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Additional reporting: Renee Viellaris